Sunday, 29 March 2015

House church 101 - Gathering to Christ

We have being blessed with a lot of new faces in our house church recently which has sparked a need to start going through some of the basics regarding why we gather like we do as opposed to the more traditional types of church meetings that people are used to. I figured that while I am preparing these teachings for our local gatherings I may as well put them out on the blog as well. So this is part 1 of what at this stage looks like a 14 part series on the theology behind house church meetings. Some of what I write about will be in direct contrast to what a lot of institutional churches do and teach. Don’t take it personally, most of my friends still prefer gathering in a traditional manner, many of my facebook pals are even pastors, and we are all still able to get along (with 1 or 2 exceptions who think I’ve completely lost the plot). Take this for what it is then; you are free to dismiss what I say or to accept it. Either way if Christ is your Lord then we are still brothers and have enough in common to work together for the kingdom of God and I hope that you see it that way as well. With all of that being said, let me start this series off where any conversation about the church should start; with Jesus.

“And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. – Colossians 1:17-18

As ISIS have so horrifically demonstrated to the world of late, a body separated from its head is dead. Likewise; a church disconnected from Christ is dead. It may look like a church. There may be a cross and a pulpit with an open bible on it and a hundred people sitting in neat little rows. But if Christ is not present, it is just a dead religious service creating the illusion of something more. Whether it is Calvary Chapel, Mars Hill, the Westborough Baptists or someone else our churches all look very much the same from the outside. You shake some hands, cart the children off somewhere, sing some songs, pass the offering, listen to a sermon, pray and go home. This format is not even restricted to Christian services. You will find pretty much the same thing happening in your local mosque. As A.W. Tozer once said:-

The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum (1).

The harsh reality is that many churches can get by on programs and personalities alone. Consider what happened to the Mars Hill franchise when Mark Driscoll left; how does it happen that several churches closed their doors because one person left? Who was sustaining them? Who were they gathering to? I’m not saying that the people who went there were not true Christians but rather that there was something fundamentally wrong with their idea and practice of church if it was held together by a man. It happened to a church I used to go to as well; where the charismatic pastor left and the church closed up shop; only to emerge elsewhere under the same person but under a different name with some of his most devoted followers still in tow. The only person that a church should not be able to function without is Christ because He is the one that we should be gathering to every time that we get together. As William MacDonald puts it:-

Christ should be the gathering center of His people. We should be drawn by His presence, not by man. When believers see this and act upon it, the Local assembly need not be shaken by the departure of any man. An assembly where Christians gather to Christ has strength, stability and solidarity (2).

History repeats itself

Israel made a lot of mistakes in trying to follow God and sometimes we wonder how they got it so spectacularly wrong after everything God did for them. Yet church history reveals that we keep on making the same mistakes that they did. Consider Israel’s request for a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-15; Israel were meant to be set apart to their God but instead they longed to be like the other nations and requested a king to rule over them. Verse 7 in this chapter tells us that God reluctantly consented to their request for a king adding that “Israel had rejected Him”. God then goes on to warn the people of the consequences of their request. This included the king appointing people that would serve his agenda (verse 11). Interestingly verse 15 also says that the king would take a tithe from the people and give it to his officers and servants. It seems to me that the church is reaping what it has sown in denying the priesthood of all believers and setting men over themselves to rule and act as mediators between them and God. Most church ministries one can get involved in are generally there to serve the pastors ministry and are of little true value to the body. Hardly any of them even require spiritual giftings but rather just a willingness to serve the service. Hosea 8:4 says that “They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.” The bible simply does not teach a hierarchy amongst believers esteeming one mans gifting over the rest of the bodies. Diotrephes is spoken harshly of by John in 3 John 9-11 for imitating what is evil in that he loved having preeminence in the church and for not receiving the brethren. I truly feel sorry for people thrust in to the position of preeminence in church because most of them are truly trying to point people to Christ but the system often serves in lifting up the preachers instead.

What Jesus had to say

The idea that a small group of people in the church have power to rule over the rest of the assembly is not biblical. Jesus taught in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and earth had being given to Him. He commands us in chapter 20:25-28 not to act like the Gentiles who exercise authority over one another. But if someone desires to be great they must rather become like a slave in serving others. In chapter 23:8-12 He takes this even further and forbids us from using titles of honor, “Do not call any man teacher, leader or Father for Christ is your teacher and God is your Father”; then He firmly reminds us that we “we are all brothers” and “anyone who seeks to exalt himself will be humbled”. In chapter 16 verse 18 He also reminds us that the church is His church, it does not belong to you, me or Pastor so and so. He purchased it and He will build it up. We are to consider it a privilege that He uses us to minister and labor in His work.

Any true servant in the body must be able to say as John the Baptist did in John 3:28-30. “I am not the Christ (anointed one), I proclaim Him, He must increase and I must decrease”. I urge you to remember that Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), He is not the big head, the chief head or the heads head as some would have you believe. That word ‘head’ means ‘source’; for our very life as the body comes directly from Him.

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23

To sum it all up, I implore you to look to Jesus and hold fast to Him. “Let no one cheat you of your reward…hold fast to the head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God (3)”. The vast majority of the church today has not held fast to the head. It is obsessed with numbers, bank accounts, celebrity preachers and power. It believes that in order to serve God it must first serve itself.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Other posts in this series

Two kinds of church
The Lords supper
A church without tithing
On authority, submission, coverings and accountability

1 – From the book Tozer on Christian leadership.
2 – From Principles (pg67)
3 – Colossians 2:18-19

Friday, 27 March 2015

Election to service

A while back I started to get the feeling that the whole debate over predestination and election between the Calvinists and the Arminians may have actually steered us away from the original message that the applicable texts were trying to convey. I wrote over here about how I was beginning to see Jesus as the ultimate chosen one. Not that Jesus needed to be saved in the sense that the rest of mankind does but more in the sense of Jesus being called to a specific task or tasks. Ultimately, those who God ‘foreknew’ were not individuals that He chose to save beforehand or even those that He could see by looking ahead in time but rather; they were the corporate bride of Christ which He had predestined before the foundations of the world. Anyone found in Christ therefore automatically becomes grafted into her.

Secondly; whenever predestination pops up in scripture it appears to be focused not on those who are in or out regarding eternal life but rather on Gods plan of the glorification of Christ and those who are being conformed into His image. Then thirdly something new that I have discovered since then is that God’s ‘foreknowledge” does not mean ‘to know beforehand’ but rather it means to ‘love beforehand’. Think of it in terms of parents that are expecting the birth of a baby that is on the way. Their love builds and builds in anticipation and by the time the baby is born they are already completely smitten with the child and would do anything to protect him or her. Their love is real even before the baby in their arms had a name.

So what does election and predestination have to do with suffering? Well I am glad that I asked (otherwise this post would be going nowhere)! I would like to suggest that election, as Jeremy Meyers also puts it, is to service rather than eternal life. It is important here to recognize that Jesus is the chief elect one. As Isaiah 42:1 puts it; “Behold! My servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom my soul delights!”

So what was Jesus elected to? Among other things, He came to give his life as a ransom for many, to bring salvation and to destroy the works of Satan, sin and death. He also came as our guilt offering. This is but a few of the things Jesus was called to during His earthly ministry. While God clearly chooses vessels for many purposes. Primarily; in Christ and the Church our election is to service, suffering and even sometimes death.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

If we are to take Romans 8:29-30 seriously then we need to recognize that the wonderful plan God has for your life will include some uncomfortable stretching from time to time. “All who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). God’s plan from eternity past in moving us toward the goal of glorification means that the Christian walk is often one of enduring. Enduring is not a nice word, it makes me think of painfully walking through something because the goal at the end is deemed to be worthwhile. In Matthew 24:13 Jesus says that “he who endures till the end shall be saved”. The Christian walk is blessed, joyful and liberating but it is also one to be endured.

It is highly probable that God’s calling on you does not include your own private jet or the biggest house and best car available. For Peter, being called meant death by crucifixion (John 21:18-19). For James and John, it meant drinking from the same cup of suffering as Christ (Matthew 20:20-23). For Paul, being a chosen vessel meant suffering for His names sake (Acts 9:15-16). Are you starting to see the picture? Yet our suffering is not in vain. God does not abandon us in the trials and tests that we face but is faithful to carry us through them.

“…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we also may be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”. – Romans 8:16-18

…and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:2-5

This post is part of the MennoNerds Synchroblog series taking place during Lent on the subject of suffering. To read more articles in this series go to To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to

Friday, 20 March 2015

i, church

I have a lot of respect for people who stand up and speak passionately about this thing called church. Often the stirring rally cry of “There is more than this” is seeing as a threat to those who find comfort in the predictability of routine or those who prefer keeping their religion scheduled and apart from other aspects of their lives. Brett Fish Anderson is one of those folks willing to stick his head out and his debut work is a great read. He speaks from the heart and reasons from scripture as he exhorts the church to fulfill her potential in Christ.

There are plenty of highlights in i, church such as Brett’s ideas regarding the kinds of things that should be happening or that should be more evident within the church. He has a list of 13 of them which includes amongst other things loving God and people, community, breaking bread and drinking wine, witnessing and discipline others, prayer, bible reading, 2 way communication and social justice. Something else I really enjoyed is a portion on ‘running the race’ as opposed to the ‘walk with God’ thing we often hear about. I also thought that i, church did a great job of defining what the church is not and so hopefully there are people out there who will realize that they were not growing despondent with church as much as they were with what they may have perceived the church to be and hopefully this will lead them back into fellowship again.

The only real negatives for me were from the section subtitled Can you be a Christ follower without being part of an institutionalized Sunday gathering. If it were simply addressing lone ranger Christianity then it would have been fine but I do see the informal yet still intentional House Churches as a viable and healthy exception to this. Using Brett’s 13 ideas of what should be evident in a church; I think the institutional church is more prone to failure in those areas than House churches may be. Breaking bread (as a full meal), accountability, wrestling with the bible and 2 way ministry are impossible in large, formal gatherings and the sad reality is that even in churches which have home groups during the week, the larger portion of its members will always be involved merely as spectators on a Sunday.

Let it not detract too much from the rest of the book though. It is not a one book to solve all your problems and questions read but it is still a valuable contribution to the subject of this thing called ekklesia. Also, It is not only for those who have grown disillusioned with the church but it speaks directly to those who still think that ‘their’ church is the bee’s knees as well.

My favorite section of this book is just a collection of other people’s contributions on how they would define the church or how they feel toward it. There is a great variety of voices which gives a good indication of how the rest of the world thinks and feels about us. I absolutely love how Brett figured out a way to make this an interactive thing. Church is not just about what happens between 9 and 11 am on a Sunday. Church is expressed through the lives of the body in very real ways in a very real world everyday and everywhere. Brett gets it.

                                                       Bacon rating

You can pick up a copy of i, church by clicking here and you can read Brett's blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

House church 101 - Temples built by men and the Temple built by God

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, Where is the house that you will build for me?” – Isaiah 66:1

Much has been said in organic/house church circles regarding Israel’s demand for a king in 1 Samuel chapter 8 where the people rejected God in favor of being ruled over by a man (see verse 7). Many have likened it to how the church has fallen into the same trap by establishing a clergy/laity system in which the majority live out their faith passively through a priest or pastor who is elevated (willingly or not) above everyone else in their gatherings. In this post I would like to draw a similar illustration by focusing on Israel’s temple (as well as modern church buildings) and how they miss what God had originally intended for His people. I should start by giving credit where it is due; the idea for this post and some of the scriptures below are found in Keith Giles book “This is my body” which I am currently reading, it is a really good read and I highly recommend checking it out (you can download it for free by clicking over here).

The temple that men built

Okay; let’s start off here by stating that it was always Gods desire to dwell amongst His people. He is not some disinterested deity with His feet up sitting in a couch somewhere on the other side of the universe. Rather, He is a loving Creator who is actively involved with His creation. We see this in the Garden of Eden where God walked around in the cool of the day. After things turned South in Eden and people strayed further and further away from God. We read His request in Exodus 25:8 for His people to build Him a Sanctuary that He may “dwell among them”. It is worth mentioning that God desired a mobile home where He could always be among His people. Wherever they went, ho would go with them. The tabernacle came with very specific design instructions which are beyond the scope of this article (okay and often beyond the understanding of the articles author). But the bottom line here is that the tabernacle is filled with types and shadows of greater things that were to come in Christ.

So how did we go from tabernacle to temple to Christ? It may surprise you to learn that it was never Gods intention to build a temple, the idea originated with King David:-

Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around, that the king said to Nathan the prophet. “See now, I dwell in a house made of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains”. – 2 Samuel 7:1-2

Nathans first impulse seems to have been to affirm David’s idea (see verse 4) to build a permanent home for God to dwell in but later that night God gave Nathan a message for David:-

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Would you build a house for me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about with the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I have commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” - 2 Samuel 7:5-7

As the dialogue continues God reveals to David that He Himself will build a house and adds to that that He will establish an everlasting kingdom from one of David’s seed to reign over it.

…Also, the Lord tells you that He will make you a house… I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. I will be His Father and He shall be my Son. - 2 Samuel 7:12-14

Most people (including David and Solomon) apparently believe that God was saying that because David had too much blood on his hands; the temple building duty would fall to one of his sons (Solomon). I think that they all assumed incorrectly as the text specifically says that the Lord Himself would make the house (see Acts 7:47-51 as well for confirmation of Solomon’s blunder). Neither Solomon’s temple nor his kingdom lasted forever. So surely 2 Samuel 7:5-7 must be pointing to Christ and a temple that He would build. Nevertheless, I am getting ahead of myself, so Solomon picks up the baton from his father and builds a temple for God. Notice his words in 1 Kings 5:3-5

You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the Lord put his foes under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor evil occurrence. And behold, I propose to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spoke to my father David, saying, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he shall build the house for My name.”

That Solomon missed the fact that it was the lord who would build Himself a house is further highlighted by his declaration in 1 Kings 8:13:-

I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for you to dwell in forever.

Fast forward another chapter and you finally get to see what God’s response was regarding Solomon’s temple. It gives the impression that, like Israel’s request for a king, God endures with, rather than ordains or endorses this new house. In a warning to Solomon about what will happen if his sons would fail to follow Him; God directly addressed the temple which Solomon temple

“And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and will hiss, and say, ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land and to this house?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, and worshipped them and served them, therefore the Lord has brought all this calamity on them.”

Sure enough, Israel turned its back on God and the temple was eventually destroyed. Fast forward a little bit again to when the second temple was about to be built, we see some interesting insights as God uses the opportunity to reveal His plans for the true temple that was still on its way. The second temple would be a sign pointing to the true temple which God had previously promised to build Himself. Even the name Joshua in the following verses is significant because it is the same Hebrew word used for Jesus’ name. The bible initially made the distinction between Joshua and Jesus purely to avoid confusion for its readers and hearers. Here are the key texts from Zechariah which highlight what I am saying:-

‘Hear , O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions that sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. – Zechariah 3:8

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying: …“Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord and He shall bear the glory. – Zechariah 6:9-12

The physical temple along with the sacrifices and priesthood was never going to be a permanent deal. Jeremiah says in chapter 3, verses 16 and 17 (in the book of Jeremiah):-

“Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in those days,” says the Lord, “that they will say no more, ‘the ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore.”At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.”

Wow! The Ark of the Covenant was central to Jewish worship. It represented the presence of God as dwelling among His people. Without it, the temple, the priesthood and sacrifices would be meaningless. It is also significant that Jerusalem is identified in this passage as where God reigns as we will see in the New Testament which brings us to part 2 of this article...

The true temple of God

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up again in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. – John 2:19-21

In the New Testament the true temple of God is finally revealed in Jesus. In Revelation 21 John writes that the New Jerusalem will be the Lamb’s wife (verses 9 & 10) but that there will be no physical temple in her, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (verse 22). We have being invited into communion with the Godhead as He has made the church the temple of the Holy Spirit.

For you are the temple of the Living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be my people.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16

But Christ (is) as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:6

Coming to Him as a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5

Consider for a moment that the church is the only house that God ever built (Matthew 16:18) and the only temple that God ever sanctioned. Yes, He was and is willing to meet people where they were and work with them through the consequences of their decisions. God still worked through the kings of Israel and Judah, He still showed up in the temple and He still used it but it was only a shadow of what Christ would do later on. But just because we can still see the fingerprints of God in something it does not necessarily mean that it was His ideal.

Consider that the purpose of the temple was that it would be a place where people could be in the presence of God and offer sacrifices, it is a holy place where the Spirit dwells. Isn't this a definition of the church? The place where the Spirit dwells; where the people offer their bodies as living sacrifices, their reasonable act of service. She is the true house of God.

Church was never meant to be that building you attend once a week, God dwells in us 24/7 and where two or three gather in His name He is there in the midst of us. The temple Jesus is building looks nothing like the cathedrals that surround us. The brick walls that we may or may not assemble between are just that. They are not necessarily bad or wrong. The early church would gather at Solomon’s Porch and Paul reasoned with the Greeks in the school of Tyrannus for two years so that all who dwelt there would hear the word of the Lord. Once again, brick walls are not bad; they are just that, brick walls. Do not make the same mistake as Solomon did, let God build His church. So if you want to put any funds and energy into a church building project, consider doing so by investing directly into the lives of the living stones which make up that glorious temple. When we take food off a widow’s plate so we can buy a better sound system we are not building the church. When missions are sacrificed for a new coat of paint we are not building the church. When church buildings are built we are not building the church! The church is built only where Christ touches the lives of people in a way that furthers the Gospel of the Kingdom. Where members are added to His body, where disciples are made and where the ekklesia is edified. This may happen through His people but unless it is He who builds the house, we labor in vain.

Other posts in this series

Gathering to Christ
Two kinds of church
The Lords supper
A church without tithing
On authority, submission, coverings and accountability

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The odd one out amongst ‘the Least of These’.

This post is part of the MennoNerds Synchroblog series taking place during Lent on the subject of suffering. Before reading the post below though I ask that you click on the video link first. 

A picture is worth a thousand words (so a video should be worth a few more) but for any international readers visiting here allow me to translate some of what is mentioned in the video above.

There are 600 000 Afrikaans speaking white South Africans (out of a total of 2.7 million) that are falling into or living in poverty.
131 000 white Afrikaaners are in desperate need of housing.
45% of rape cases involve children.
One toddler living on the East Rand (which is where I live) says that “Rich is when you eat more than once a day”.

Now I could have shared a video of a black squatter camp and believe me, black squatter camps are everywhere and the living conditions are just as terrible and the people living in them are equally in need of aid from those who have the resources to share with them. There are also of course areas with make shift homes where black, white and colored people have settled down together as well. But I intentionally linked this video because I wanted to make a specific point in this post which is that ‘the least of these’ are not always as obvious as our initial assumptions assume them to be. So many people, usually those who are outside the country, have strange ideas about what life is like in South Africa. I would recommend you read this post (click on the orange words) to get more of an idea if you are interested in that. But this particular post is not about what it is like to be black or white or about the pros and cons that may be associated with either. Rather, this post is about looking beyond the assumptions which we all subconsciously make about people.

                                      REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

We make nasty judgment calls about people thinking that they must be on the streets because of a drug problem or other destructive habit.Every time a new act of terror goes viral on social media a large proportion of people will make blanket judgments about Muslims. How many people realize that the majority of ISIS’s victims are and will be other Muslims? One article I read said that they have marked 200 million other Muslims for death that they regard to be apostates. A wealthy lady in an upper class neighborhood can be counted among the least of these if bank accounts are not our only criteria we choose to measure people by. How many women get trapped in abusive marriages? How many school bullies are acting out because of their home environments?

Yes, we make generalizations because they are generally true but my question to you is how many people do you think we are we letting fall through the cracks because their skin color, their gender or their social status did not qualify them as victims in society’s eyes? Jesus had time for the poor just as he had time for the Samaritans, the Roman Centurion, Nicodemus, the tax collectors and the religious leaders around Him. It is true that scripture places extra emphasis on the poor and the widows (and so should we) but I would like to highlight that all men are broken in some form or another. When I read Matthew 23 I can envision a tearful Jesus pleading with the scribes and Pharisees as He says to them “what sorrow awaits you” because He cared deeply about the path each of them was on. These were men of high social standing and Jesus took no delight in their imminent downfall. Therefore let us learn to be charitable to all men and not just those who fit the mold. Until we can without prejudices feed the hungry, protect the week, speak for those who have no voice and bless our enemies rather than wishing any harm on them; we will not reflect the Jesus who is our example in all these things.

To read more articles in this series MennoNerds Synchro-Blog series reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015 to  To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to